Lobi standing figure

In Lobi society, figures were carved in embodiment of spirits (thila) who enforce divine laws governing the human sphere. The medium through whom the thila issued their wishes and guidance was the buor, or diviner. The various injunctions delivered through the buor sometimes included the creation of carved figures that were intended to fulfill curative or warding functions. Figures carved as a result of a divination are known as tibil thil (a person who helps the thila). Such figures were placed on public or family altars, and the rooms of dwellings included a small niche or space (thilda) for this purpose. From this position the spirit would protect the family and home from misfortune. It could also be used for divination, and could demand offerings and even the addition of further figures to accompany it. An accumulation of spirit figures conferred social status upon a family, and they were passed through the patrilineal line as heirlooms.

Lobi figures take on a variety of poses and aspects, some relatively neutral and others animated. The present figure is a male example of the bateba phuwe (“ordinary” bateba) type, which stands frontally, arms to its sides. It shows a heavy-lidded, brooding expression, the energy of which is echoed forcefully by the rough geometric execution of the body. The back of the head mimics the front, making janus-like. In profile, the form reveals a highly abstracted assemblage of fused and angular shapes that project a sense of the monumental.

Late 19th / eatly 20th century
Height: 7 ½ in

Private collection, New York

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